Random Thoughts

The Twenty Footer

... I'll bet "Jock" Connolly knows

by Ed Boyd

We had moved to Melrose with our six kids in 1963, over forty years ago. This was a way to better ourselves, especially the Melrose great schools.

I’m not sure why, I found myself thinking about Swan Street Park in Everett, Massachusetts where I played sixty-five years ago. On an impulse, I got into my car and drove the ten miles it takes to get there. I parked on Swan Street next to the section of “twenty-footer” fence erected in the late ‘30’s. I used to climb the back fence in my yard to McCarron's yard, and walk a few yards on Swan St. to the "twenty-footer". I was ten so my toes fit into the chin limked fence of the "twenty-footer." I climbed up the "twenty-footer" to the top of the five foot fence and climbed down the other side. That was my routine until I was graduated in the eighth grade from St. Joseph's school.  My thoughts sent me back to wonder how that unique section of fence got there. I said to myself, “I bet Jock Connolly knows!”

Jock Connolly had come to be known by most in Everett who knew him as someone who remembers anyone who ever lived there. He had flaming red hair equaled by his temper. When he was a kid he was Swan Street Park champion rock thrower. Sixty-five years ago, whenever Jock expressed even the smallest irritation, the rest of us would head for cover. When so inflamed, Jock would grab a bunch of rocks and hurl them at whomever. I can still feel myself cower behind the old barn at the top of the hill until Jock calmed down.

And I see from the window of my memory a sultry summer morning when Jock flew from his house on the corner of Tappan and Hancock Streets being pursued by his enraged father. I was standing on the corner of Hancock Street and Cleveland Avenue next to Eddie Gilbert’s Drugstore, leaning on a khaki colored mailbox. Here came Jock running toward me, his feet barely touching the pavement, his father hot in pursuit. As he got closer I could see the fright in his eyes that turned quickly into a smile. He could see, as he got to the corner, a fire engine, sirens ablaze, slowing to make the corner onto Cleveland Avenue. The fire truck turned and Jock laughed his escape as he jumped on the back of it, rescuing him from the clutches of his father.

I had learned that Jock spent a lot of time at the Everett Elks Club. I phoned the Elks and was told that Jock could be found there most days any time after 5PM. One Sunday evening about 6PM I rang the bell of the Elks Club trusting that I would find Jock there. An Elks member opened the door and when I told him I was looking for Jock he promptly showed me in.

When I found Jock in the parlor, his face lit up. “Eddie”, he said, his broad red face beaming, “How the f--- are you!” I told Jock I was glad to see him, too. Although I had not seen him for several years, Jock did not register surprise at seeing me. It was as if we had had our last contact yesterday. By 6PM Jock had had more than a few snorts, so maybe the lapsed time did not appear relevant? We chatted about this and that. How have you been, what are you doing these days, the usual outworn comments. Then, I told Jock I had been thinking about him and laughed as I asked him if he remembered the time he had jumped onto the back of a fire engine. This produced another broad, toothy, red-faced, hilarious laugh as he nodded agreement saying, “Yes, it really happened!” Jock, still busting his gut laughing, said the guy steering the back of the ladder truck hollered at the driver to slow and told Jock to get off the truck or he’d kick his ass two blocks away.

I asked jock about the “twenty-footer” and he said without hesitation, “Butch Walsh hit a ball through Mason’s window at 67 Swan St. Right into Mason’s bowl of soup,” Jock exclaimed! This I took as a bit of exaggeration as Jock was pretty oiled by then. He added with a slurred giggle, “Yeah, the f----- city put up the twenty foot fence to keep baseballs out of Mason’s soup.” It wasn’t clear if Mason was the owner's name or Jock was referring to a Free Mason, disparaged by Irish Roman Catholics back then.

I judged Jock to be too far in his cups to pursue our talk any further. I left saying that maybe we could talk some more another time.

John “Jock” Connolly died in 2004, age 82.

* Another version of this was published in Prose Toad, quarterly enzine, a nonfiction article, spring, ’05.

June 6, 2008

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